A Painter's Snug Corner
THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB.
IF there is any one who needs to be convinced that picturesqueness and dirt have no necessary and inherent connection, he should make a pilgrimage to little seaside Newlyn, whose fame is now fast being spread abroad by the colony of clever artists who have adopted it as their home. At Newlyn, one may fairly sate one’s eyes on uninterrupted and undiluted picturesqueness, and at the same time learn to know how dear cleanliness may be to the makers of the picturesque, if they have had the good fortune to be born on Cornish soil, and reared in the good old traditions of the remote Cornish peninsula. For Newlyn is not a score of miles distant from the Land’s End itself. Its granite bluffs are washed by the sounding tides of the English Channel. As yet it is happily innocent of a railway station. Penzance, its near neighbor on Mount’s Bay, has the railway and the hotels, and the other ugly adjuncts of a watering-place, leaving Newlyn to the undisturbed possession of its fisher folk and its artists.
How intimately and unitedly its fisher folk and its artists have learned to live is the first surprise that Newlyn has for the sentimental traveler. Here is a mite of a cottage, clinging close to the ground, as the Cornish cottage loves to cling. Under its beetling roof of thatch, it looks almost too tiny to harbor the broad-chested, yellowbearded fisherman whose home it is. Your eyes wander from one to another of its quaint details, and lo, in the midst of the weather-beaten thatch there is a large glass skylight. It is in these primitive quarters that an artist has found a nook for his studio. Only a few yards higher up the stony zigzag that makes a Newlyn thoroughfare, you come upon a minute gray dwelling, built of incongruously huge blocks of stone. A grapevine drapes the low front, which stands at a defiant angle to the fronts of all its neighbors. You peer around its side, and another glass light proclaims the workroom of another of the picture-making brotherhood.
No matter how steep the ascent is, the little flower-filled gardens, the trimly kept interiors seen in glimpses through the low doorways, the apple-cheeked children at the thresholds, the constant succession of subjects for a sketchbook, still tempt you upward. At the corner of a second precipitous zigzag, a hoard bearing the words “ Rue des Beaux Arts ” reminds you afresh that it is a metropolis of art, and not a mere fishing - village, you are straying through. Presently the sight of an open meadow, overgrown with tall ripe grasses, lures you through a stone gateway, and you find yourself in a veritable artists’ paradise. The meadow, which slopes no less steeply than the village, is dotted at irregular intervals with studios, each adorned at its threshold with the bloom of midsummer flowers. The most complete of these fieldbuilt haunts of art belongs to Mr. Stanhope Forbes, well known on the walls of London exhibitions, and facile prniceps among the Newlynites. A small cottage, built of the beautiful blocks of granite that are one of nature’s gifts to Cornwall, adjoins the glasscovered studio, it has a low lattice over the doorway, and upon the lattice clambers a vine whose huge leaves flaunt themselves with an almost conscious perfection of ornamentation. Sunflowers, sweet peas, and marigolds fill the foreground of this idyl within an idyl.
If by chance, or the friendly guidance of a native, you find your way into one of the studios hidden among the houses in the heart of the village, and, after climbing up the ladder-like staircase that is its sole approach, you are fortunate enough to have a chat with the artist who has discovered its possibilities, he will tell you several things about the art of the Newlynites. In the first place, he will disclaim the idea that they are Impressionists. The Impressionists, he will tell you, paint with their eyes shut. The school of Newlyn, on the contrary, endeavors to keep its eyes very wide open. Its chief end and aim is to paint things as they actually look. “ No, we are not Impressionists ; we are Realists,” your artist will reiterate, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his white flannel trousers, and glancing alternately at you and the picture in progress on his easel. The model for the picture, a gray-haired tar, will in the mean time have retired as far as the limits of the low four-windowed room will permit. But after looking at him, and at his counterfeit presentment on the easel, it is quite certain that you will not wish to leave Newlyn without some speech with his brethren of the dark blue jersey jacket.
There they stand in a line, leaning over the iron rail on the stone embankment, and looking with sagacious eyes over the glancing blue surface before them. Sundown is the time when they go out in their redsailed “ trollers ” and “ drifters,” to come back in the early dawn with the night’s haul of fishes. Until then they are ready for a friendly chat with a stranger. Their own discourse will be of the things the stranger loves to bear about : of the finding of pilchards in the dark, twenty feet below the surface of the water ; of the mackerel that are caught at the top ; and of the soles and plaice that must be trolled for many fathoms deep. A fine scorn will creep into the old salt’s manner when he tells you of the difference between the icepacked fish that finds its way to London and the freshly caught mess that graces his own board. Then, turning adroitly from the discussion of his craft to the beauties of his coast, he will look across the shimmering bay to St. Michael’s Mount in the distance, and tell you, in his rich Cornish dialect, that it is a fine view.
So, too, the artists seem to think, to judge by their manner of gathering on the beach at sunset, when the western front of the castle on the summit of St. Michael’s Mount gleams like marble above its rocky foundations, and sedulously transferring to canvas as much of the beauty before them as their skill can compass. If the Newlynites do not become a famous school of colorists, it will not be because nature has not unfolded before them a combination of color as rich and rare as even southern lands can boast. The sea that washes the time-stained granite cliffs is unrivaled in the depths of its blue, and in the clearness of its emerald hues in shallow pools and inlets. There is the high square gray tower of the Penzance parish church to give character to the shallow white curve that the town makes around the bay, and there is the inimitable beauty of the famous Mount “ that guards the western coast.” With a love of the picturesque that binds them to a primitive fishing-village, it will not be strange if the artist colony give to Newlyn and its surroundings the fame that another group of artists have given to Barbizon and Fontainebleau.